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Download Colossians Part 20

I think this sermon contains two extremely important concepts; ideas that we will use over and over as we cover the rest of Colossians. Please download the audio and/or save the written version so that you can refer to it again in the future.

Colossians #20  Colossians 2:16-17

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Important concept #1: The Two Ditches.

Before we jump into these verses, we need a broader context about the teachings of the Bible. Martin Luther compared following Jesus to riding a horse. He suggested it is possible to fall off either the right side of the horse, or the left side. In these days, I like the analogy of a road with two deep ditches. You might veer off into the left hand ditch, or the right hand one, and if you do, you end up in trouble. Ideally you stay in the middle, on the road.

Let’s call the right-hand ditch “legalism.” If you go this direction, you start to think that following Jesus is all about behaving correctly. The problem is that there is a tiny bit of truth in legalism. Our behavior should change once we have received the grace of God through Jesus. But it changes because God is changing us through the Holy Spirit, not because we have to earn credit from him. If you are in the legalism ditch, instead of recognizing that right behavior is a result of a true faith, you think (maybe unconsciously) that if you behave correctly, you prove that you are worthy of God. Without realizing it, you start to think that God blesses you because you are a good person. Certainly you aren’t like those other people. People in this ditch are sometimes proud (but often they hide their pride behind pious talk and behavior). They are at least as concerned with how other people behave as with their own lives, and frequently they focus not on what is in their hearts, but rather, what they do (or keep away from doing). They think (sometimes only hinting, but not saying directly) that when people suffer, it is because God is punishing them for their sin. This is a dangerous ditch, even more so because many of those who fall into it think that they are good, Christian folks. They are so busy trying to appear righteous that other people might think of them as strong Christians as well, while in reality, they are offending God by thinking that their “righteous” acts amount to anything.

The truth, of course, is that God’s punishment for sin is death and hell, not troubles in this life, and Jesus already took that punishment for those who trust Him. We cannot earn God’s love or favor, and our attempts to do so are offensive to God. All human beings have been judged equally guilty and unworthy, and all human beings are saved only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. After receiving Jesus, the good works we do are not about earning anything from God; they are about responding to the new life given to us by the Holy Spirit through the work of Jesus.

There is another dangerous ditch – the left hand ditch, which I will call “lawlessness.” This ditch also contains a tiny bit of truth: That Jesus paid all for our sins, and there is nothing we can add to that payment. But “lawless” people take it beyond what it means. These folks think that anything goes. If Christ paid for all my sins, past present and future, then why does it matter how I behave? Why not get drunk, or high, when I feel like it? Why not have sex with whomever I want, whenever I want? Why not get everything I can for myself, and live as comfortably as possible, no matter what that does to others around me? Why pay attention to anything except what I really want?

The problem with the lawless ditch is that it does not recognize that receiving Jesus Christ changes a person. The life of Christ that is in you through the Holy Spirit does not want to get drunk. It does not want to indulge the desires of the flesh. The Holy Spirit is God, and the character of God is holy, not lawless or self-indulgent. Sinning is like throwing pig-manure on the person who saved your life. If you really believe he saved you, you won’t want to do that; certainly, at least, a significant part of you will not want to.

The middle, the safe and good road, I call love. It is love for Jesus for who he is, and what he has done, and love for other people because Jesus loves them too. Love is other focused, not self-focused. Love manifests the character of God. Love puts the desires of Jesus above my own, and the good of others equal to my own.

Starting here, Paul is going to warn the Colossians about the two ditches. He begins with a warning about the ditch of legalism. In Colossae, at the time Paul wrote, the legalists typically felt that everyone should follow Jewish laws. They thought Christians should observe the kosher laws of the Old Testament (what you eat and drink) and also observe the Jewish festivals, the sabbath regulations and so on. These laws are found in various places in the Old Testament, but 2 Chronicles gives us a summary:

At that time Solomon offered burnt offerings to the LORD on the LORD’s altar he had made in front of the portico. He followed the daily requirement for offerings according to the commandment of Moses for Sabbaths, New Moons, and the three annual appointed festivals: the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Shelters.(CSB 2 Chronicles 8:12-14)

The disadvantage of taking the scripture verse by verse is that we might forget the context we are in. Paul has been talking about walking in Christ. He reminded us that all the fullness of God dwells in Christ, and Christ dwells inside of us, through the Holy Spirit. When we were still dead in our sins, when our flesh was still in control of us, Jesus died for us. One consequence of his death was that the law that rightly condemned us was fulfilled, and so made irrelevant to those who are in Christ. It is no longer a basis for judging personal righteousness. We no longer have to live by it.

“Therefore,” says Paul, “let no one pass judgment you…” The first things he mentions are parts of the Jewish law. These things, along with kosher regulations, and laws about ancient Israel, are just a shadow, pointing to Jesus. The reality of them is fulfilled and found in Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews agrees:

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. (NLT, Hebrews 10:1)

Unfortunately, some people are strangely confused about this. I think it is because they are inclined to listen to human beings more than actually reading the Bible. I know a few Christian families who think it is wrong to eat pork, for instance. What puzzles me is that they don’t follow all of the other kosher regulations. They don’t have two sinks, or two refrigerators, or avoid cheeseburgers. Perhaps I am in danger of judging them, but it is very clear here that what we eat or drink has nothing to do with salvation. Trying to follow one small part of the Jewish food laws, as a requirement of following Jesus, is nonsensical.

2 Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. 4 For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. (NLT, Galatians 5:2-4)

Paul said this about circumcision, but it applies to any part of the Jewish law. We are saved by Jesus, by God’s grace through faith alone. If you think avoiding pork contributes in any way to your salvation, then you must obey every single part of the law perfectly. If you think observing the sabbath or Jewish festivals is necessary for true Christians, then you are obligated to follow the whole law perfectly. No. Paul is clear: these things are a shadow of the good reality. Jesus Christ is the actual good reality.

Now, what all is contained in this? What I mean is, most Christians eat pork, but we still think that committing adultery is a sin. The command about adultery was originally in the Old Testament. So how do we know what we are supposed to follow literally, and what we aren’t? Let’s look at important concept #2: How we handle the “law parts” of the Bible.

If we actually read our Bibles, it isn’t as difficult as it might seem. The New Testament makes it clear that the food laws are not necessary – in fact, it does so in our verses for today, as well as several other places (Mark 7:14-18; Acts 15:1-29; Romans 14:14 & 20). Our verses today also make it clear that we don’t have to follow the Jewish festivals, or sabbath day regulations – these were fulfilled in Christ. All of the Jewish worship regulations are just shadows of the reality in Jesus – the temple, the sacrifices, the priests’ clothing and everything to do with temple or tabernacle worship (Hebrews 8:5; 10:1). All of the regulations that were about ancient Israel no longer apply literally. Things about the types of clothing to wear, or stoning adulterers, and so on – these were all given for a particular nation at a particular time in history. They can still tell us about God and point us to Jesus, but we are not supposed to follow them literally.

The moral laws of the Old Testament are different. Jesus, and his apostles, affirmed the moral truth of the ten commandments. These still serve two purposes: 1) To show us that we can’t be good enough, therefore we need Jesus. 2) To show us the kind of character we should be developing as we follow Jesus. In other words, we still ought to do our best to live by these moral laws, because that is what the Holy Spirit, who lives inside of us, wants to do. These moral laws are a reflection of the character of God. When we fail, we fall back on the forgiveness of Jesus, but we continue on away from sin, toward God. We’ll talk more about this when we get to the lawlessness ditch.

So, let’s think about some application of this “let no one pass judgment on you…”While most of us don’t worry about how Jewish we are, there are some of us who became Christians later on in life. We’ve done things in the past that we regret; things we might even feel ashamed of. Sometimes, we encounter Christians who seem to have together, people who have been following Jesus all their lives. These folks should not make you feel inferior, or second class. We all stand on the same ground at the foot of the cross. Let no one pass judgment on you for your past – it is past. You might also make sure that you are not passing judgment upon yourself for your past.

Certain groups of believers say that we must not use musical instruments as part of worship. Others say we must follow certain liturgies and prayers when we worship. Some say we must not drink a single drop of alcohol. Others insist that true Christians worship on Saturdays, not Sundays. Others claim we must celebrate the traditional seasons, fasts and feasts of the historic church.

Paul says none of these things can be an occasion for passing judgment upon Christians. These things are not the substance that is Christ. They are external. They don’t affect a person’s heart. They may be useful, or they may not.

Let’s make sure we understand. So for example, if someone does not want to use instruments in worship, we should not pass judgment upon them. If someone wants to use traditional liturgies and church festivals, or even ancient Jewish festivals, we should not judge them for it. By the way, those of us in the House Church movement should be careful not to become judgmental of others. We know that House Church is Biblical, and we know how many tremendous advantages it has. But it is not commanded by scripture (nor, of course, forbidden). I might think you’re missing out if you don’t do house church, but I can’t say it is the only right way to do church. I cannot pass judgment on you if you don’t want to do church that way.

I want to add another thing. If someone says: “No one must use musical instruments in worship” or, “no one should eat pork,” or “Everyone should use this kind of liturgy,” we can judge their words. We aren’t passing judgment on them as people, but we can say: “No, that isn’t what the Bible says. You can choose to be that way if you like, but the Bible does not say you have to. It certainly does not say I have to.” We should not allow someone to judge us for such things.

One reason I love Lutheran theology is that it is very Biblical. Many centuries ago, the first Lutherans put forth this teaching in their own words:

“We believe, teach and confess unanimously that the ceremonies or church usages which are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Word of God, but which have been introduced solely for the sake of good order and the general welfare, are in and for themselves no divine worship or even a part of it…

We believe, teach and confess that the community of God in every locality and every age has authority to change such ceremonies according to circumstances as it may be most profitable and edifying to the community of God.” Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article X, paragraphs 1 & 2).

This verse is supposed to be freeing. The Gentile believers in Colossae felt second class, and Jewish folks didn’t mind them feeling that way. But they (and we) have all the fullness of Christ living in us, and in Christ lives all the fullness of God. All basis for judgment against us has been taken away and nailed to the cross. There are no second class citizens in the kingdom of God.

Some Questions for reflection:

  • What things make you feel like a second class Christian? Why do you think you feel that way?
  • What unimportant things are you tempted to use as a basis for judging other Christians?
  • What unimportant things have been used to judge you?
  • Which “ditch” are you tempted to veer towards: that of legalism, or lawlessness? Why do you think that is?




Jesus did not come to make it OK to sin. He came to make us holy from the inside out. He came to defeat sin. Jesus didn’t come to change the law. He came to change us.

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Matthew #14. Matthew 5:17-20


“Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:17-20, HCSB)

Christians commonly forget that Jesus said this. It is important for the rest of the sermon on the mount, so let’s unpack it a bit.

First, let us understand that Jesus talking about the Old Testament in its entirety, not just certain “laws” or “rules.” The New Testament is written in Greek, but it is safe to assume that Jesus spoke in Aramaic and Hebrew. The word “law” in Hebrew is “Torah” and it refers not just to specific commands, but to all of the first five books of the Bible, sometimes called “The book of Moses” (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). “Prophets” is the way Jews referred to all the rest of the Old Testament. In other words, when a Jewish person said “The Law and the Prophets” he meant “the entire Old Testament.” In short, Jesus is affirming that the entire Old Testament remains valid, even for those who follow him.

Jesus got even more specific than that. He said not one “iota or least stroke of a letter” can be removed from the law (and by implication, the rest of the Old Testament. This is an extreme statement. Look at this word in Hebrewיֹּ֗יֹּ֗אמֶרַ This is the Hebrew word “said.” The smallest letter in Hebrew is “yodh” which is the first on the right on this word, the one that looks like a comma up in the air. The equivalent letter in Greek is “iota” which is like an i without the dot. The second letter in from the left is “Mem.” On the right hand side at the top of the Mem is a little stroke that looks a bit like a horn. The expression “least stroke of a letter” refers to little marks like this. Jesus said, not even an iota/yodh, not even the little horn on a Mem will be undone. In other words, Jesus is very serious about this. We can’t “fudge” on God’s word. Right here, Jesus says that it will remain until “heaven and earth pass away.” In addition, he says that he himself fulfills its purpose. Christians typically don’t think this way. How can this be?

First, and I’ve mentioned this in other sermons, yes, the whole law applies to Christians. For example, even the koshers laws still apply to Christian. Now, before you click away, read this paragraph. The New Testament clearly teaches that we don’t have to eat kosher any more. Have some pork chops, bacon or fried shrimp, and feel no guilt. But in the life of a Christian, there are still applications for the kosher laws of the Old Testament. The main reason for those laws was to keep God’s people from worshipping pagan deities (which were sometimes demonic powers – Paul associated idol worship with demons in 1 Corinthians 10:20). A second reason was to help God’s people trust him more: pigs were some of the easiest animals to raise for meat, and by forbidding pork, the people had to rely upon God that much more for their food. Finally, the kosher laws showed everyone that God’s people were different.

Now, should we still refrain from worshipping pagan deities and demons? Of course! Should we still trust God to provide for us? Absolutely! Should we still be noticeably different from those who don’t follow God? You betcha. So the kosher laws still apply. Not in an exact, literal sense, but we don’t eliminate them from God’s word to us. There is something about those laws which still brings benefit to Christians, and should still have force in our lives.

In terms of Jesus fulfilling the laws let us consider the following:

In the first place, the promises of the Old Testament are about Jesus Christ, and are fulfilled in him:

Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Luke 24:27, HCSB)

Then [Jesus] told them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44-45, HCSB)

For [Paul] vigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 18:28, HCSB)

To remove part of the law or prophets is to remove part of the revelation of Jesus Christ; to weaken the promises that are fulfilled in him.

Second, Jesus fulfilled the law by obeying it perfectly himself.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15, HCSB)

God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God. (2Cor 5:21, NET)

Jesus not only affirmed the law and fulfilled its promises: he himself personally obeyed every part of it.

Third, Jesus reconciles us to the standards of the law.

There is no problem with the law. The problem is with us. Put simply, the Law is God’s holiness translated into human terms. It shows us what holiness looks like in a human being. The Law is not wrong. It is not evil. It accurately shows us the standard required for holiness.

The standard is what it is, because holiness is what it is. It is a law of God’s nature. And what the law shows us, is that we cannot reach the standard. It makes it clear that the standard is impossible for us. That is all that the law can accomplish. It shows us that we are not holy, that we are sinners. And every time you try and reach that standard, the law will show you the same thing again. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, we were born without a chance. We were born with a congenital illness called sin, and the law shows us that we simply cannot overcome that. The law is not a means to get right with God. It is a measurement that shows that on our own, we can never get right with God.

Jesus did not come to get rid of the law. He did not come to change the standard. He says the law will remain. Instead, he came to fulfill the law Himself, to meet the standard on our behalf, to fill us up with His own holiness.

If we try to set aside the moral requirements of the law, we are saying “anything goes.” There is a tremendous difference between “anything goes” and “anything can be forgiven.” If we try to set aside the law, we are saying “anything goes.” That doesn’t mean sin is forgiven, it means there is no wrong – but it also means there is no right. That doesn’t mean God loves us, it means God doesn’t care. It means he doesn’t care if you lie to your boss or sleep with someone outside of marriage. But it also means he doesn’t care if someone rapes you or murders you, or steals your job or your spouse. If there is no sin, there can be no justice. If nothing is wrong, if there is no standard, then the powerful can do whatever they please, and it is just bad luck for everyone else. The concept of: “there is no sin” would be very bad news for the human race.

So, we cannot set aside God’s standard. It is absolutely wrong to say: “You don’t have to be holy anymore,” or “the law isn’t valid anymore.” Jesus repudiates that idea in the verses. Jesus did not come to make it OK to sin. He came to make us holy from the inside out. He came to defeat sin.

Jesus didn’t come to change the law. He came to change us. And that is terrific news! The standard remains. It is just that now, if we will trust him to do it, Jesus meets that standard on our behalf.

That is another way in Jesus came to fulfill the law. The law is good and right. But before Jesus, it was incomplete. It gave us the standard, but no way to meet the standard. Jesus completes it, because through him, the standards of law can be satisfied for us.

This is also the key to understanding what Jesus means when he says “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees had turned God’s Holy standard into a set of rules. For instance, where the Old Testament said “remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy” they had created a set of rules to define what that meant. The defined righteousness as “following the external rules of our religion.” You could hate God, but if you followed the rules, the Jewish religion would still say you were right with him. But Jesus knew two things:

· The man-made rules defined by the Jewish religion were not the same thing as God’s holy standard, defined by the Old Testament.

· The focus of the scribes and Pharisees was all external. The evil and depravity of their hearts was left unaffected by the fact that they outwardly followed rules.

So when Jesus tells us his followers must be even more righteous, he is telling us that we need him to fulfill the law on our behalf, and to make us truly holy – especially within our hearts. The way to be even more righteous than the Pharisees and scribes is to trust Jesus to make us holy from the inside out, and keep saying “yes” to him as he works that holiness into our everyday lives.

There is no point in pretending that we are capable of doing what the law requires. But to set aside the law is to invite chaos, brutality and injustice. The answer, is to trust Jesus to fulfill the law. We still seek to apply in ways that are relevant to our daily lives. We still try to follow it, because Jesus, living inside us, wants to follow it. But, in Jesus, we are free from the condemnation that comes when we fail.


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Even the dumbest-seeming parts of the bible can turn out to have a profound message of grace. Instead of dismissing them, we should pray for help in understanding them, and then apply what we know about how to understand the bible.

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Understanding the Bible #8

We recently looked at how to interpret the laws we find in the bible. To help us solidify our understanding of that, let’s put together what we have learned, and look at some Old Testament laws.

In the very first part of this series, I mentioned a verse that at first seems offensive and barbaric. Deuteronomy 22:28-29 requires that when a virgin (who is not betrothed to anyone) is raped, her rapist should pay her family 50 shekels.

Not long ago I read a blog that used this verse as an excuse to avoid the moral laws contained in the bible. The Blogger’s basic point was this: “If we don’t want to obey the bible and deal with rapists in this way, what right do we have to insist that people should obey the bible about things like sexual purity, or honesty, or loving our neighbor?”

It’s kind of a cheap shot, an easy way to call any Christian a hypocrite, because nobody literally follows all those old laws anymore. So, if insist that the bible teaches that you should love your neighbor, you’re a hypocrite unless you try to deal with rapists by having them pay their victim’s family 50 shekels. On the surface, it is a nifty argument, but it is also ignorant and dishonest.

If you haven’t read the rest of this series, I strongly encourage you to go back and read them all. That will help you tremendously in understanding how we approach such things. For those who have read, you know that there are three kinds of laws. This law about rapists was clearly about crime and punishment in the ancient nation of Israel – what we call a civil law. So right away, we should be aware that we cannot apply it directly and literally. In fact, to do so, might violate the laws of the country in which you live. This law was meant to be directly applied to ancient Israel. In addition, we know that this law (like all of the Old Testament laws) was fulfilled spiritually in Jesus.

But there is more. The New Testament tells us that everything that was written in the bible – even the Old Testament laws – was written for our instruction. We don’t obey it as we would obey the civil laws of the country in which we live. We trust that Jesus has fulfilled the spiritual purpose for that law. But we also believe and understand that this law contains some underlying principle or teaching that will instruct, inform or encourage us as we seek to follow Jesus. In other words, we don’t simply throw it out. We still see this law as valid – in the sense that it must teach us something true and worthwhile, even now.

At first glance, everything about Deuteronomy 22:28-29 seems repulsive to 21st Century Western culture. Unless we start off with the belief that the Holy Spirit can teach us something worthwhile here, we will simply ignore it, or wish it wasn’t in the bible. But if we go forward believing that we can learn something, we will be surprised and rewarded.

Let’s apply what we have learned. First, we must read it in context. The blogger I mentioned only said that the rapist must pay the parents of the victim fifty shekels. He did not consider the whole context. Deuteronomy chapters 21 and 22 contain many civil laws for ancient Israel. Many of the laws in this section of the bible are concerned with situations where there are no witnesses to establish exactly what happened. Deuteronomy 21:1-9 is about unsolved murders. 22:13-21 is about a he-said/she-said situation, where a husband claims his betrothed bride was unfaithful to him. 22:23-27 is about rape. If a woman claims it was rape, and yet it occurred with people around and she didn’t cry for help, then it may have been consensual. On other hand, when a woman claims she was raped where there were no people to hear her cry for help, she is to be believed. That leads us to the verses we are looking at:

“If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days. (Deut 22:28-29, ESV2011)

First, we see that the situation is ambiguous. The “meeting” may refer to meeting in open country, where there are no witnesses to verify what happened. In other words, this may or not be consensual. There’s something else important here. The woman who is raped is in specific circumstance – she is a virgin, and she is not yet betrothed to anyone. This is important, as we move on. Notice this also: the punishment is not merely that the rapist pay a fine – he must also marry the young woman, and he may never divorce her.

Now, again, at first blush, this addition of marriage does not seem to help. In fact, it seems like it makes it even worse. However, as we have learned, let’s consider the historical and cultural context of this law.

Women in the ancient Middle East generally lived in situations that we consider terrible today. Since most men are physically stronger than most women, men generally did what they wanted with and to women. To save her from abuse and poverty, in those days, a woman needed a man who would protect her from other men, and provide her with food and shelter. Without such a protector-provider, her future would be very bleak indeed.

Women were expected to be virgins when they were married (which was usually between ages 13-18). No self-respecting man would marry a previously unmarried girl unless she was a virgin. Therefore, a young woman who had been raped would be considered unmarriageable – no one would ever be interested in her. A betrothed woman who was raped, was considered as if she was already married. The rape would not end the betrothal, or stop the marriage. But a young woman who was raped, and not betrothed, would probably never find a husband willing to marry her. As a result she would never have the protection and provision that a husband offered. She would become an object of abuse and scorn for any man who wanted to mistreat her. Her future would most likely be in prostitution and begging.

We need to remember also that virtually all marriages were arranged. Many people found that love could grow and blossom in an arranged marriage, but almost no one expected to start out by loving the person they would marry. First came marriage, then came love.

So what it all amounts to is this: A young woman who was raped before betrothal had an incredibly bleak future. She would be an outcast, abused and forgotten for the rest of her days. Instead of allowing this to happen, God, through Moses commanded that such a young woman must be protected and provided for – for the rest of her life. That is what marriage did for women in those days. By marrying her, without the possibility of divorcing her, her rapist became committed to providing for her and protecting for her entire life. He was on the hook for her bills and her reputation until he died. His payment was not just fifty-shekels – it was a lifetime of providing for his victim’s needs.

Now, I know, it sounds horrible that she would have to live with her rapist. But remember there is ambiguity here – the rape may not have actually been a rape. In other words, she might have been a willing lover, in which case she would probably be happy to be with the man in question. The law prevented the man from using her, and then casting her aside. And even if it was rape, the young woman would not have expected to love her husband anyway – certainly not at first. Rape is a tragedy, and this certainly was not a perfect solution. But it was a solution that provided extensive ongoing care and protection for the rape victim. It kept her from the almost certain fate of being abused by other men. It made the rapist responsible for the life he would have ruined, and there was no way he could get out of it by divorcing her.

Before we dismiss this as barbaric, compare it to our own laws about rape.

Today, when a man rapes a woman and is convicted, he goes to prison. The average sentence served by a convicted rapist is about five years. While he is in prison all of his physical needs are provided for – food, shelter, clothing and medical care. And yet there is no law in our current system that requires the rapist to provide any of these things to the victim. We focus exclusively on locking up the perpetrator. The victim is on her own. Now of course, there are programs and groups for rape victims, but they are not part of the legal system, and they are optional, and they are not paid for by the people who commit the crime.

Who are the barbarians now?

This crazy Old Testament law about rape, the one we think is so terrible, actually contains a powerful message: look after those who have been hurt; provide for the one who has been deprived of a future. Care for the victim, and make the criminal undertake all of the costs.

Shouldn’t we be more concerned about helping victims than we are? Shouldn’t we make sure that we take care of the most vulnerable people in our society and protect them from abuse?

You see, when we understand this law, we see that it reveals God’s concern for the vulnerable, his desire to provide for those who need provision, and protect those who have no protection. Those are not messages that we should scorn, or ignore, or throw out.

So, to answer the blogger, we still see this law as valid. Don’t you think it is still appropriate for Christians to protect and provide for those who, through no fault of their own, are needy and vulnerable? We aren’t hypocrites. We still value this, and every law. We value and seek to apply the principle, the reason behind the law. When we find that reason, we still seek to apply it appropriately to our present times.

I hope you care coming to see the incredible value of the bible as we go through this series. Even a “stupid law,” such as the one from Deuteronomy 22:28-29, turns out to be an expression of God’s grace and care.



Jesus did not set aside the laws of the Old Testament. He fulfilled them. This is very important, as we seek to understand the law-genre we find in the bible. When we really understand how to interpret those ancient laws, there is tremendous blessing and grace there for us.


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Understanding the Bible #7 .

One of the most misunderstood and misused genres in the bible are the laws, particularly the laws contained in the Old Testament.

Here’s an example. I have heard it said, many times: “In the same section of the bible where it says homosexual sex is wrong, it also says eating shellfish is wrong. It also says it is wrong to wear clothes with more than one kind of fiber. Therefore, unless you want to stop eating shrimp and wearing anything that isn’t 100% cotton, you can’t say that homosexual behavior is a sin.”

Let me say that I do understand the confusion. However, let me also say that if you say some such thing, it reveals that a) You haven’t read the bible in context and b) You don’t understand how to read laws in the bible.

First, let me remind you about context. The verse in question is Leviticus 18:22. The immediate context includes more laws regarding sexual behavior. The verses just before 18:22 prohibit incest, including child sexual abuse. The verses just after it prohibit sex with animals, and also the practice of burning babies alive. So, if you throw out Leviticus 18:22 because of context, congratulations! You’ve now endorsed incest, bestiality and the brutal murder of live infants. You don’t get to the part about two kinds of cloth for another 28 verses, and before you get there, you find laws protecting the poor and prohibiting oppression and hatred. By the reasoning I shared above, you ought to throw those things out also! (By the way, the verse about shellfish isn’t anywhere near Leviticus 18:22 – it’s in chapter 11).

However, there is a legitimate core question here. Let’s move the question over to Leviticus 19:17-19, to make it more clear:

“You must not harbor hatred against your brother. Rebuke your neighbor directly, and you will not incur guilt because of him. Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am Yahweh.

“You are to keep My statutes. You must not crossbreed two different kinds of your livestock, sow your fields with two kinds of seed, or put on a garment made of two kinds of material. (Lev 19:17-19, HCSB)

Here we have a law that says you should not hate or hold grudges. It says we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Immediately after, we have a law against cross-breeding and also the one against wearing clothing made up of mixed fibers. Why do we agree that we shouldn’t hate, but yet we have no problem wearing something that is 75% cotton and 25% polyester? That’s a legitimate question.

There are three types of laws given in the bible: Laws for Ancient Israel; Ceremonial Laws for Worship; and Moral Laws. One of the difficulties is that the bible doesn’t always make it clear which ones are which kind; even worse, sometimes you find all three different types of laws mixed together. Sometimes you might have a moral law (“do not commit adultery”) combined with a law that applies only to ancient Israel (“adulterers must be put to death”) as in Leviticus 20:10. Since we feel free to not execute adulterers any more, does that mean we should also feel free to commit adultery?

The laws for ancient Israel are exactly that: laws that applied literally and directly to the nation of Israel from about 1400 BC until Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 BC. No one lives in ancient Israel any more – that nation has not existed for more than 2,000 years. There is a modern nation of Israel, but they are set up with a constitution and a set of laws that are different from those given by Moses. So when we read a law that applies to citizenship in ancient Israel, we know right away that we should not apply it literally without further investigation.

Some Jewish leaders once tried to trick Jesus with one of these ancient laws. They caught a woman in adultery, and brought her to him, and said “According the Law, we should stone her.” The truth was, they weren’t serious. At the time of Jesus, the Jews lived under Roman law, which forbade such things. It was illegal for them to stone her. If Jesus affirmed the Old Testament law, they could bring him before the Romans for attempted murder. If Jesus rejected the law, they could claim to his followers that he did not follow the teaching of Moses. It’s the same thing I’ve seen countless times on blogs and facebook posts: “You claim to follow the bible, but the bible says this. Are you going to do that, or not?”

Jesus knew it was a trap. He couldn’t explain about ancient laws without being misquoted. So he said

“The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7, HCSB)

Caught in their own trap, they left. When they were gone, he told the woman that he did not condemn her (meaning, condemn her to death) but he also said: “Go, and from now on, do not sin any more.” (John 8:11). The whole story is in John 8:1-11. It shows us Jesus’ attitude toward two kinds of laws. The laws of the ancient nation of Israel no longer apply in the literal sense. Jesus himself changed all that (more on that in the next paragraph). But the moral law – “do not commit adultery” – still applies. Jesus called it a sin, and told the woman to stop it.

There is something else. The law of death for adulterers was fulfilled. There was death for the woman who committed adultery, the one they brought to Jesus. Only, it wasn’t her death. Jesus died in her place. He did not set aside the law – he fulfilled it. Death came as a result of her sin. This is why she did not have to be condemned – he chose to fulfill the law on her behalf. He also chose to fulfill the law on our behalf. Do you see, how (as Jesus said) all the law and the prophets are fulfilled in Jesus? When we understand that, so much more of the bible opens up for us.

I want to pause here and reiterate something I said earlier in the series. Even though the ancient laws of the Israelite nation no longer apply in a direct, literal sense, they do still apply in the sense that they teach us important eternal principles. We no longer directly apply the law “death to adulterers.” But it still means something for us. It means that adultery is a very serious thing in God’s eyes. It is a graphic illustration, even today, that sin leads to death. It shows us again our need for Jesus, and how amazing is his love and grace to us.

By showing us Jesus’ attitude toward Old Testament law, I just did something that demonstrates the final common sense principle of bible reading. I used one part of the bible to help us understand another, more difficult, part. We call this rule Scripture Interprets Scripture. The idea includes several things.

First, we let the clear parts of the bible shed light on the obscure parts. Remember our book on penguins? The author said “Penguins are large, flightless birds.” Later she said she rejoiced as she observed them “soaring and diving through the open blue.” The first statement is very clear – it tells us that penguins are birds that cannot fly. Therefore, when we look at the second statement, we already know that it must not mean flying. We should use the bible in the same way. Much of it is very clear. We should use the clear parts to help us understand the more difficult things.

There’s another thing with the bible, however. The New Testament quotes and explains the Old Testament on numerous occasions. We use the explanations of the New Testament to help us understand the Old. The bible explains itself in many places, if we pay attention.

Scripture Interprets Scripture is a very helpful principle when it comes to understanding the laws of the Old Testament. What I mean is, the New Testament helps us a great deal in understanding those laws. Let’s look at how:

1. Laws of Ancient Israel. We’ve already looked at how Jesus viewed these. He fulfilled them in his life, death and resurrection. What remains are not things for us to do, but principles that we can learn. Paul demonstrated this when he referred to law about not muzzling oxen (1 Corinthians 9). That is no longer a law for anyone to obey literally. But that ancient law does contain an eternal principle that we should try to apply to our own lives as Jesus-followers. The same is true of all of those ancient-Israel laws. Sometimes it takes work to uncover the principle. We have to read in context, and learn the cultural and historical setting of those laws. We are guided by the New Testament. We don’t apply these thing literally. But there is good stuff for us there.

2. Laws regarding worship ceremonies. There are hundreds of laws in the Old Testament about how the people of Israel were to worship God. Among these are laws about what makes a person ceremonially “clean” or “unclean” – including what we call “kosher” laws about food. Thankfully, the New Testament is very clear about all of this. Jesus himself said this:

“Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated.” (As a result, He made all foods clean.) Then He said, “What comes out of a person — that defiles him. For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person.” (Mark 7:18-23, HCSB)

Mark comments “As a result, He made all foods clean.” He is clear that Jesus eliminated the kosher laws, while, at the same time, affirming the moral laws.

Peter had a vision that confirmed the fact that kosher laws are not necessary for those who are in Jesus (Acts 10:9-16). The first apostles wrestled with what the law meant after Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Acts 15:28-29 records their conclusions:

For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from idol-offerings, and from blood, from smothering [abortion], and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

(Acts 15:28-29 My rendering from Greek. The word variously translated “what is strangled” or “smothered” was a colloquial expression referring to the practice of smothering unwanted newborn infants)

In other words, the New Testament permits you to eat all the shellfish you want, and wear what you choose.

In addition, the book of Hebrews deals extensively with the laws regarding worship. The short version is this: All of the Old Testament worship ceremonies and practices were designed to do two things: 1. Show us our need for a Messiah, a savior and 2. Help us to understand what he would do for us.

Therefore, Jesus fulfilled all of these laws. It is not necessary for us to practice them any more.

These serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was warned when he was about to complete the tabernacle. For God said, Be careful that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown to you on the mountain. But Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree He is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been legally enacted on better promises. (Heb 8:5-6, HCSB)

Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the actual form of those realities, it can never perfect the worshipers by the same sacrifices they continually offer year after year. (Heb 10:1, HCSB)

So we do not need to sacrifice animals in worship, or wear special clothes, or burn incense, or live “kosher” or follow any of those Old Testament regulations for worship or festivals and feasts. However, learning about those things can still greatly enrich our appreciation and understanding of Jesus and what he has done for us. For example, our family has celebrated the Passover Feast for the past 20 years. We don’t believe it is necessary. But it is a helpful tradition that points us toward Jesus and reminds us of all the promises God fulfilled in Him. We can learn similar things by studying these other Old Testament worship laws. But we do not have to literally follow them as written.

3. Moral Laws. The moral laws in the bible are a reflection of God’s Holy nature. They do not change. The ten commandments are moral laws. Laws about not hating and sexual purity and loving others are all moral laws. The New Testament teaches that Jesus fulfilled the entire moral law for us, so we do not have to do the impossible task of keeping the moral law perfectly. However, Jesus, living inside us, wants to continue to keep the moral law. He doesn’t want to hate, or murder, or commit sexual sin or lie or cheat. Therefore the moral law remains a standard for Christians. Jesus himself affirmed the ten commandments. He affirmed that sexual purity is found in abstinence before marriage, and faithfulness in marriage. He affirmed that we should love others, and not hate. He taught that lies and oppression were sinful. The apostles of Jesus also affirmed the moral law in every book of the New Testament.

We can’t keep it perfectly, but when we break the moral law, it is sign that there is something wrong in our relationship with Jesus. We are not meant to engage in a lifestyle in which we regularly break the moral law that is a reflection of the Holy nature of God. When we do as we please, and consistently, deliberately live in a pattern of breaking the moral law, we reveal that either we don’t have real faith in Jesus, or that we are in danger of rejecting Jesus.

Thanks to Jesus, the moral law is no longer a standard we must reach in order to be reconciled to God. Jesus has already done that for us. Even so, it’s a good thing to want to please God by doing the right thing. I’m pleased when I see my kids following the moral law – being kind, being responsible, staying away from drugs and so on.  But it doesn’t cause me to love them more nor does it have any bearing upon their identity as my kids.

In addition to showing us how God would like us to live, the moral law remains like a warning sign. The moral law tells us when we are danger of messing up our lives. It tells us when we are in danger of moving away from Jesus, and heading toward rejecting who He is, and what he has done for us. It is a message that shouts “Danger! Wrong Way! Turn Back! Death Ahead!” We ignore the moral law to our own peril and destruction.

I encourage you to take some time with these sermon notes. This is an important subject that too few Christians genuinely understand. As you do, I encourage you to listen to the Holy Spirit. As we Christians, we do not need to be afraid of the law any more. In Jesus, the law is no longer dangerous and condemning – it is a blessing. The ancient laws show us God’s grace and compassion. The ceremonial laws show us God’s holiness, and how much we need Jesus. And the moral laws protect us, by keeping us away from danger, and close to God.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you today.

Do you have a Sense of Blessedness?


The sense of being blessed is one of the key differences between living by law and living by grace. If you think it is up to you live the Christian life, up to you to please God, it will be hard to feel blessed.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Galatians Part 12

Galatians # 12. Chapter 4:12-16

This next little section of Galatians is a very personal appeal from Paul, and it contains a kind of buffet of several different spiritual truths. Please ask the Holy Spirit to show you what he wants to show you here, and then we’ll dig in.

Up until this point, Paul has been pretty stern with the Galatians. Here is a sampling of his tone so far:

As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him! For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ. (Gal 1:9-10, HCSB)

Now from those recognized as important (what they really were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism) — they added nothing to me. (Gal 2:6, HCSB)

You foolish Galatians! Who has hypnotized you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified? I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? (Gal 3:1-3, HCSB)

Paul was clearly upset about what was happening in the Galatian churches. He wasted no time in telling them how wrong and foolish they were. But at this point, (4:11 and following) he moderates his tone a little bit. First, he says, “Become like me, for I became like you.”

I think Paul is referring to the fact that although he was a Jew and Pharisee, he lived with, ate with and associated with the non-Jewish Galatians. He became like them, living as if we were not Jewish. Through Christ, he had the freedom to do this. Now, he urges them to do the same. Remember, certain leaders in these Churches were telling them they had to obey all the Jewish laws to be a Christian. Paul reminds them, that was not how he behaved. He was like them. He is saying, “Look, I was Jewish, and I became like a Gentile. Now you, who have been trying to be Jewish, become like Gentiles again!”

Now, most of us have already become like Paul, in the sense that we don’t strictly follow Jewish regulations. But I think there are two places where this might possibly to speak to us. First, I think it says something about reaching out to others. People do not have to act like us, look like us, talk like us or dress like us before they can become part of our church. They didn’t have to become like Paul – that is, Jewish – in order to receive Jesus. If anything, Paul became more like them. There are, of course some bottom-line aspects to Christianity. To be a Christian, you have to trust Jesus, and surrender your life to him. But once a person does that, we can trust the Holy Spirit to begin manifesting the life of Jesus in that person. We can trust the Holy Spirit to lead that person away from sin. But it doesn’t say anything in the Bible about us all looking the same. The life of Jesus is available to anyone who is willing to surrender control of his or her own life to Him.

Second, it is a reiteration of our freedom in Christ. Some Christians try to put rules on silly things. For instance, you must dress a certain way at church (or all the time); you cannot drink, even in moderation without getting drunk; you can’t watch certain movies, or listen to certain types of music, or dance, or….you fill in the blank. These things are not essential to faith in Jesus Christ. They are external rules. Paul says in Colossians that these rules have little value, spiritually speaking:

If you died with the Messiah to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”? All these regulations refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are commands and doctrines of men. Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence. (Col 2:20-23, HCSB)

Next, Paul makes this statement:

You have not wronged me; you know that previously I preached the gospel to you because of a physical illness. You did not despise or reject me though my physical condition was a trial for you.

Bible scholars debate what exactly Paul’s physical ailment was. Martin Luther believes that when Paul came to the Galatians, he was suffering from the effects of physical persecution. We know that many times Paul was beaten up by mobs. Sometimes he was arrested and whipped. Several times he was imprisoned, and we can assume during some of those incidents, he suffered at the hands of the jailers and the other prisoners. In the Galatian area, in one place he was stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19).

Other people thought that Paul had a recurring illness. In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul speaks of a “thorn in the flesh,” that sounds like it might be a recurring physical problem. Many people suspect that he had some disease of the eyes. We know that on the road to Damascus, Paul was blinded for three days. Here in this passage, he says the Galatians would have torn out their own eyes to give to him. At the end of the letter, he writes this:

Look at what large letters I use as I write to you in my own handwriting. (Gal 6:11, HCSB)

Most of Paul’s letters were actually written down by other people (often, his friend and colleague, Silas). Usually, he just signed them personally at the end. 2 Thessalonians 3:17 is typical of the end of many of his letters:

This greeting is in my own hand — Paul. This is a sign in every letter; this is how I write. (2Thess 3:17, HCSB)

All this suggests that maybe Paul’s vision was not very good, and perhaps he had a condition that flared up and worsened at times. In any case, far from coming to them as strong and having it all together, he first came to them in weakness and in need. This again, is a helpful thing for us as we consider how to reach out to people who don’t know Jesus yet. We don’t have to have it all put together. In fact, sometimes, when we have some kind of need, it opens a door to relationship with others, and opens a door for us to share Jesus with those who help us.

Paul’s other point here is that in spite of all of his rebukes and strong language, he is not upset about their personal interactions. His intensity is not about personality conflicts. It is about the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ. He is saying, “Look, this isn’t personal. I know how you cared for me.” He is reminding them of the joy and friendship that existed between them when they were together. He doesn’t want them to think he is angry for some offense against himself. It is about the truth, not personal conflict. In verse sixteen He says, “Have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?”

I have to say, I have very strong feelings about this subject. Paul is making a distinction here that is absolutely critical for Christians in the world today. In essence, he is saying this: “I love you and appreciate you as people. We have a wonderful friendship. I am even indebted to you. What I say to you does not negate that. You do need to know, however, that your belief, and the direction that your life is going, is wrong.”

The fact that he calls them wrong, takes nothing away from his love for them. In his mind, at least, it doesn’t affect their friendship and the close feelings that existed between Paul and the Galatian Christians. It is simply that, because he loves them, he must make sure that they know the truth. The world rarely understands this. Rick Warren, author of the Purpose Driven Life puts it like this:

Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense

That is exactly what Paul is saying here to the Galatians. He is saying, “I love you and appreciate you. This letter isn’t about that. But this letter is about the truth of what we believe and how we live.” The world usually doesn’t understand this attitude. But it is something that we Christians need to keep practicing anyway. Perhaps you have friends or family members who claim to be Christians and are living together, but are not married. The truth is, according to the Bible, that is a sin. But there is no sense in which we should hate someone who does this. There is no way in which we should ever treat them badly, or speak to them hurtfully. If the subject comes up, or if the Holy Spirit leads you to bring it up, we do need to tell the truth. But the fact that we believe as we do does NOT mean that we hate everyone who disagrees with us, or who lives according to different moral standards.

The big moral issue of our present time, of course, is homosexuality. Genesis 19; Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; Romans 1:27-29; 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Jude 1:9 all teach that homosexual sex is sinful. The bible doesn’t say it is wrong to be tempted, or to consider oneself gay, but it does teach that rather than engage in gay sex, people should remain celibate. Now, many people who call themselves Christian disagree with me. They either ignore some or all of those verses, or they have a different way of interpreting them. For many reasons, I think their bible scholarship and interpretation is very poorly done; and of course, they don’t like my way of understanding the Bible.

But I don’t think acting on gay feelings is worse than any other sin. We are all saved only through Jesus, and I am no better than anyone else. I do not hate gay people. No Christian should. I do not fear them, or what they represent. We shouldn’t mock or hurt gay folks, or deprive them of any civil right. In a free society, everyone ought to have the right to live as they see fit. I have gay people in my family, and I love, respect, and accept them as they are. And we should not hate people who disagree with us about this issue. I certainly don’t.

I’m sure many people have difficulty understanding this, but disagreement is not the same thing as hate or bigotry. If it was, everybody would have to hate billions of people for millions of reasons. If you think you have to agree fully with someone before you can love them or they you, you are in a sad, sad situation. The world is a very big, very diverse place. There are very few people in any group in the world who agree upon everything. If you threatened by people who disagree with you, maybe you need to get out more, and spend more time around such folks. We don’t have to be enemies. In fact, for our part, Christians should not think of anyone besides the devil and his cohorts as the enemy.

Let me give you one more example, as long as I’m in the middle of such controversy. In the course of my life, I have had many friendships with Muslim people. They honestly believe I am going to hell for believing that Jesus is in nature, God. I believe they are going to hell for refusing to receive God’s grace and forgiveness through Jesus. I have discussed these things openly with every Muslim friend I have had. And it has never been a problem for those friendships. I know there are Muslim extremists out there, obviously. But I am telling you, in my personal experience with Muslim people, this is how it has been.

If Muslims and Christians can disagree so fundamentally, and still accept each other, and get along and be friends, certainly we Christians ought to be able to do that with people who are more similar to us. Actually, we are supposed to do that with everyone.

I want to look at one more thing in this passage. In Galatians 4:15 Paul says to the Galatians:

What happened to this sense of being blessed that you had?

This is an important part of the entire message of the book of Galatians. The sense of being blessed is one of the key differences between living by law and living by grace. If you think it is up to you live the Christian life, up to you to please God, it will be hard to feel blessed. If it is up to you to get God to act on your behalf, you might feel obligation. You probably, at some point, feel fear, guilt and especially shame that you aren’t good enough. Sometimes, maybe, you manage to do pretty well, or at least to think you are doing pretty well. Then you might feel self-satisfied; you might even fall into sinful pride. Even so, you’ll feel the pressure to keep doing well. But either way, you probably won’t feel blessed.

We feel blessed when we know – truly know – that we are loved. We feel blessed when we know we have received far more than we could ever earn or deserve, and that it is all given freely, with no thought that we could, or even should, try to repay it. We feel blessed when we are secure in the love and grace and approval of God. All this comes only through Jesus; we get it when we trust him and surrender control of our life to him.

Do you have a sense of being blessed? Or is your life all obligation, shame and fear, or self-satisfaction and pride? At times we lose the sense of being blessed because Jesus is not a very big deal in our lives. We sweep him off into a corner of our lives that we call “religion” or “church.” If he doesn’t have much room to be in your life, naturally, there is not a large sense of being blessed.

For others, sometimes, even after we receive Jesus, he needs to work healing in us, to deal with shame and guilt that is left from our past. But through him, we can receive that sense of being blessed.

Take a minute now, to let God show you that because of Jesus, he approves of you. That’s right, through Jesus, we have God’s approval. Let that sink in, and receive again that sense of being blessed.



To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Galatians Part 11

GALATIANS #11 . Chapter #4:8-11

8 But in the past, when you didn’t know God, you were enslaved to things3 that by nature are not gods. 9 But now, since you know God, or rather have become known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and bankrupt elemental forces? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again? 10 You observe special days, months, seasons, and years. 11 I am fearful for you, that perhaps my labor for you has been wasted.

The Galatians probably worshipped the Roman/Greek pagan gods, and this is mostly likely what Paul is referring to when he refers to their past. But this makes it an interesting statement. The Galatians are not trying to go back and worship pagan gods – they are trying to follow Jewish Laws and earn something from the true God. But Paul says, this would be just the same as going back to the pagan gods. He says “How can you go back again to these bankrupt elemental principles?” Elemental principles is that word “stoikeon,” which we talked about last time. It is the idea that one thing necessarily follows another; the idea that you earn what you get, and you get what you deserve. Although many things in the universe do generally operate this way, Paul explained last time that this is not how God operates spiritually with those who are in Jesus Christ. Last time we saw that what God says to us is this: “Stoikeon doesn’t work for you, because you aren’t able to do anything of real value to me. So instead, we’ll let Jesus do all the work, and through Him, I’ll adopt you as my dearly beloved children. Let’s have no more of this ‘you do something for me, and in return I’ll do something for you.’ Instead, through Jesus, I’ll treat you as my kids, and you treat me as your daddy.”

Paul says here that going back to that idea of trying to do something for God in order to get him to do something for us, is the same as going back to the old pagan worship that the Galatians used to practice. Even if they are following Jewish Law, they are doing it with the same attitude and relationship with God that is exhibited in their old pagan worship. Pagan worship was all about “stoikeon” or “sequential principles.” If you wanted the help of a god, then you made some sort of sacrifice or vow to the deity you need to please, and you got his or her help in return. Usually in pagan worship, you had to follow the rituals of worship precisely. You had to do and say the right things at the right time in order to get the desired result.

Paul says that when they seek to follow the Jewish law, the Galatians are doing exactly the same kind of thing. They are attempting to do things for God so he will do things for them. Jewish Law emphasizes following certain rituals, and doing things the right way. Paul says, “You observe special days, months, seasons and years.” And he says that the fact that they do this scares him. It makes him think they are losing their faith.

What were the special days and seasons they were observing? The entire letter was written because the Galatians were starting to believe that in addition to believing in Jesus, they had to follow the Jewish law. We need to understand a little bit about Jewish law. The Old Testament, of course, contains many rituals and laws that Jews were supposed to keep. But there is more to it than that. Over the years, Jewish rabbis taught extensively about the Old Testament, and their teachings were passed down orally from one generation to the next. These teachings, or commentaries on the Old Testament, came to be seen as an essential part of Jewish doctrine. Eventually, these commentaries were written down and collected, and today they are called “the Talmud.” So Jewish law came to mean much more than even just the Old Testament. Paul himself, before converting to Christianity, was a rising star in the Talmudic tradition of Hillel.

Though the Talmud was still in development during New Testament times, many of its teachings were already established at that time. So, for instance, the Old Testament commands us to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Over the centuries, the Jews grappled with what exactly that means, in practical terms. By the time of Jesus, most Jews accepted to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, there were “sub-rules,” you had to follow, rules found in Talmudic teaching. For instance, you could only take a certain number of steps, or carry certain things.

I suspect that the Galatians were following both Old Testament commands, and also commands and rituals that were part of the Talmudic tradition. They probably followed a strict Talmudic interpretation of the Sabbath, and celebrated the Jewish events like New Moon, the first and seventh month and the Feasts of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and the festival of Booths. Paul writes about these things more specifically to the Colossians:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Col 2:16-17, ESV2011)

Now, it isn’t that these things are bad in and of themselves. Our church, New Joy Fellowship, celebrates the Jewish Feast of Passover every year. But there are two important things to remember, and this is what Paul is getting at:

  1. Such things, in and of themselves do not contribute to our salvation or worth in God’s eyes. Celebrate the Passover, or don’t. Eat Pork, or not – it doesn’t matter, spiritually. You won’t be more holy if you do these things; you won’t be less holy if you do. Following laws and traditions will not get God to love you more, and they won’t manipulate God into blessing you. God doesn’t relate to us according to sequential principles.
  2. Such things are shadows; the substance is Christ. Sometimes they are helpful, but they are only helpful if they point us to the real thing, which is Christ. Tradition is nothing, Christ is everything. Tradition is great if it points us to Christ, it is inherently spiritually dangerous if it does anything other than that.

I heard a great quote last week. A pastor at a conference said, “Tradition is the living faith of dead people, but traditionalism is the dead faith of living people.” Tradition can be good. When we remember how people who have gone before us lived their lives in faith and hope, it encourages hope and faith in us. We can use memories and repeated traditions to remind us of those faithful believers who have gone on to their reward. We can use traditions to keep pointing us toward the substance, which is Jesus Christ. But sometimes our faith becomes tied to the traditions. We start to feel that we must keep certain traditions, and if we don’t, we haven’t done it right. We sort of get the idea not that traditions is there to help encourage us, but rather, that certain traditions are a necessary part of our faith. This is what Paul is so concerned about.

Let me give a few examples of good traditions that can lead us astray when we think they are necessary. One of those is the altar call. That is a tradition in most Baptist churches. Sometimes it is helpful. But if you find yourself thinking that no worship service is truly complete without an altar call, you are in danger. If you think the only proper way to get saved is to come to the front of church during an altar call, you are in grave of becoming traditionalist, of confusing living faith with tradition. Lutherans have a lot of traditions in worship too. Some of them can be helpful at times. But if we get the idea that it isn’t really a worship service unless we say the Lord’s prayer, or stand for the reading of the gospel, we are in danger of confusing living faith with tradition.

Our church typically doesn’t fight over these kinds of things, but there are thousands of churches that do fight over traditions; things that are not necessary to true and living faith in Jesus Christ. The reason it becomes such a big deal is that people start thinking traditions are the same thing as faith. They are not. They are only there to aid it, and when they are not useful, they should not be used. The danger of relying too much on tradition is that some people end up with only tradition, and no real faith that is active and alive.

Picture a battery powered radio, the kind of thing we used to call a “boom box.” Imagine someone brought one of these radios to a remote village in Papua New Guinea where there was no electricity. Picture the villagers amazed and thrilled as they hear the music coming from the radio. Imagine the hours they spend, uplifted and made joyful by the music. Every evening at the same time, after they are done with their hard work, the villagers gather together around the radio to listen to the music. They call it “music time.”

But as time goes on, those batteries will die. Picture a time when the music starts to fade, and then imagine one day, it is gone. Now, what will those villagers do? If they are sensible, they will make their own music and enjoy it, and perhaps hope for a time when someone will bring new batteries to the village, so that the radio may be refreshed. But it is entirely possible that after a long time of gathering together every night to listen to the music, they may retain the habit, even after the batteries die. The radio is no longer bringing them music, but still they gather and look at it. Eventually, the villagers may even forget why they gather each night to look at the radio. It’s just what they do. If asked, many of them will say they do it because of music. As they forget, they have started to think of the evening time gathered around the radio as their “music time,” even though music has long ceased to be a part of it.

That is how some of us are with traditions. Tradition is there to bring us the “music” of faith. But tradition itself is not the same as faith. It can bring the music, but it is not music in itself. Sometimes we continue to follow traditions long after they have ceased to encourage our faith. Sometimes we get mixed up, and we forget that our faith is something greater and more alive than the traditions that once helped us in it. We even sometimes start to think that the traditions are faith, or at least an inseparable part of it.

So, we think we haven’t worshipped if we didn’t say a certain prayer or have an altar call or sing a certain song. We think it is isn’t a real church if it doesn’t have candles, or an altar, or a cross, or if it is in someone’s home, or…[you fill in the blank]. We start to think you have to have a guitar, or you can’t have a guitar and many other silly things.

Now, let me be clear. When tradition brings you closer to Jesus and makes you more open to the Holy Spirit, it is a wonderful and useful thing. There is nothing wrong with embracing those kinds of traditions. We need all the help we can get. But we need to be careful that we do not start to think that traditions are necessary to faith, or that they are the same thing as faith.

This is a normal, human tendency, and this is why Paul was so frightened when he heard about the Galatians mindlessly following the Jewish traditions. They were perverting the true gospel, adding on requirements, as if what Jesus did was not enough. They were confusing things that were designed to help faith, with the substance of faith itself.



The law is still right. It is still good. It still reflects the character of God. But it is no longer something external to us. When we trust Jesus, The character of Jesus is being formed inside us. We learn to rely on the Spirit within us to guide us; we learn to listen and respond obediently to his prompting. We no longer consult a rule-book. We consult a person.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Galatians Part 9


The Law shows the absolute necessity of the promise. The law shows us our need for the promise. If we didn’t have the law, we wouldn’t understand the holy character of God. If we didn’t have the law, we would not realize that sin is a problem, and one we cannot overcome. The Law isn’t wrong. The problem is, we can’t do it.

The Law is not in contradiction to the promise. It was given as complement, to show that the promise was needed. God gave the promise first, to invite his people to live by faith. But he gave the law later, to help them understand why they needed to live by faith.

In Galatians 3:24 it says that the law was our guardian. Although the Greek word sounds like “pedagogue,” (which in English means “instructor of children,” or “teacher”) it has a different meaning here. The best English translation might be chaperone.

In the culture of New Testament times, the guardian, or chaperone, was there to make sure that boys who were intended to be great and noble did not “go bad.” They were there to keep them from making stupid mistakes, or compromising moral character. They protected them from both physical harm and moral harm.

That was the purpose of the law, and in some ways, is the continuing purpose of the law. Sometimes we view the law as a restriction – it seems to be a fence, keeping us in, restricting our freedom. But what there is a cliff on the other side? What if the wall is actually preventing us from great harm?

We considered the first commandment last time. Let’s look at it again. “You shall have no other Gods besides me.” This means that God is supposed to be the most important thing in our lives. He is to be number one, to have precedence over everything. Now, we could look at this and say, “Hey, that’s not fair. What if I want to make sports my number one priority – at least for a period of time? What if I want to make money, or my career or my spouse or my pleasure to be first priority? What’s wrong with going for it? Didn’t God make me with certain desires? Why shouldn’t I embrace them to the fullest?”

All right, let’s say you did make sports your number one priority. What happens when you get too old to compete with younger, fitter people? Your whole life crumbles. You are still alive, but you can’t live for sports anymore. The command protects you from this.

Suppose I decide that being a pastor should be the most important thing for me. That sounds good and reasonable, doesn’t it? But if I put that in front of my relationship with God, look at what happens. If the church does well, I am doing well. But if someone complains, or people start leaving, it destroys my whole world. I have nothing left if I can’t succeed as a pastor. The first commandment protects me from that. If God is the first thing, the most important thing, than no matter what else in the world crumbles, I am ultimately OK.

The other commandments protect us in similar ways. I am sure that adultery must be pleasurable and exciting. But ultimately it destroys marriages, it handicaps the lives of the children conceived by it, and the lives of the children whose parents divorce because of it. It often spreads diseases. Eventually, it destroys society as a whole, and we are even now starting to see the unraveling of Western culture because so many people have run away from the protection of the commandment against adultery. Now, let’s be clear that God forgives it, and works in the lives of those who have failed to obey it, and brings healing and redemption. But my point is that the commandment is to protect us, not to spoil our fun.

So Paul says, the law was a chaperone, a protector. In Greek and Roman culture, the chaperone’s job ended when the child became a man. The idea was that by that time, the young man had internalized good moral character. He knew right from wrong, and was willing to do right. He was strong enough to protect himself from physical harm also. It isn’t that he should no longer live morally or safely. The idea was that now those attitudes were inside of him; he would behave that way because of the character that been formed in him.

The law is still right. It is still good. It still reflects the character of God. Our lives should still look more and more like the character of God as shown in the law. But it is no longer something external to us. When we trust Jesus, The character of Jesus is being formed inside us. We learn to rely on the Spirit within us to guide us; we learn to listen and respond obediently to his prompting. We no longer consult a rule-book. We consult a person. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied about this new relationship to the law:

“Look, the days are coming” — this is the LORD’s declaration — “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt — a covenant they broke even though I had married them” — the LORD’s declaration. “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days” — the LORD’s declaration. “I will put My teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them” — this is the LORD’s declaration. “For I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sin.” (Jer 31:31-34, HCSB)

In the case of the noble Greek and Roman families, the chaperone/guardian did not take a child and turn him into a nobleman. No, the child was born a nobleman. They did not become noble by following the guidance of the guardian; rather, they were made noble by their birth. Something preceded the guardian, and that was noble birth.

So with Christians, following the guardian (that is, the law) is not what makes us Christians. It is our spiritual re-birth into Jesus –what we call “being born again.” We are born according to God’s promise to save and transform all who trust in Jesus Christ. The law is good and right. But the promise is greater. The law serves the promise, not vice versa.

Paul puts it this way:

The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise. (Gal 3:24-29, HCSB)

In the Greco-Roman culture of the Galatians, the sons in the family were the ones who inherited everything and carried the family name. But they did not have the rights and privileges of sons until they reached adulthood Until then, they were still under the authority of their chaperone. So Paul says – we are all “sons.” I think he means sons who have come into adulthood. We are no longer under the chaperone of the law, but in the trust-relationship of the promise. When he says were are “sons,” he doesn’t mean we are all male, he means that all of us – whether male or female, Jewish or not, slave or free – are inheriting the grace of God through Jesus Christ. We are all counted as legitimate and free, we all carry God’s family name, through faith in Jesus Christ. The Jews in Galatia have been telling the Christians that being Jewish is necessary and important, that anyone who is not Jewish is, in a sense, “illegitimate.” But Paul says, “No. We are all the same in Jesus Christ. We are all legitimate in Jesus Christ. Jews aren’t better than Gentiles. Free people aren’t better than slaves. Men aren’t better than women. The only thing that counts is Jesus Christ. In him, we are all legitimate inheritors, legitimate bearers of the family name of God.”

Paul wraps it up by saying that if you are in Christ (that is, if you trust Jesus) you are a true Jew – you are a “descendant” of Abraham. You stand in the true tradition of Abraham, which is salvation by trust in God’s promises, especially trust in the promises that were fulfilled in Jesus.

So, what does this mean for all of us today?

First, it is important to realize that the law is good and right. But we don’t become righteous through it, because we cannot do it all, or consistently. We don’t live by a set of rules. We live by a relationship of trust in Jesus, and reliance upon the Holy Spirit. He has already fulfilled the law for us. We are already completely righteous through him. He will guide us so that our lives do reflect the character of God as expressed in the law. But that character and that behavior forms in us not through our strenuous efforts, but through listening to the Holy Spirit and obeying his guidance.

How does this work? Some things are quite obvious. It’s silly to pray, “Jesus, do you want me to commit adultery?” Of course he does not. Although the law can’t save us, it is still true and right and good. A better prayer might be “Jesus, prevent me from even having the opportunity to commit adultery.” Or, “Jesus I give you my will and my body, to use as you want. Keep me from sinning.” Remember and recognize that through Jesus, you are already holy in spirit. Keep up that conversational prayer. It’s hard to be talking to Jesus, while at the very same time you are doing something unrighteous and unholy. His character within you doesn’t want to do it. If you feel a strong desire to sin, be honest with him about that, and keep up that conversational prayer.

Second, as I read these verses, I have a strong sense that some of you need to hear this: you are legitimate. You aren’t second class. You are a full heir of God, you carry His family name. No one who trusts Jesus is any worse – or any better – than you. There are no second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. Your failures are irrelevant. Your socio-economic position is irrelevant. Your gender is irrelevant. Your ethnicity is irrelevant. Through Jesus, you have become one of God’s Chosen Ones.


live by faith

Living by faith means we depend upon God; particularly we depend upon his mercy, forgiveness and underserved kindness to us in every situation and on into eternity. It means we depend on him when things are good, and when they are not good. It means we trust even when we don’t understand.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Galatians Part 7
Galatians #7 . Chapter 2:19-21

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal 2:19-21, ESV2011)

Last week in our small-group, someone raised this question about trust: How do we do it? It’s a good question. Paul said in the verses we studied last time, that we are justified by faith. We looked at what that means. Now, in these verses, he says that we “live by faith in the Son of God.” So how do we “do” trust? How do we live by faith?

Paul says here that living in faith/trust starts with dying. He says he died to the law. He was crucified with Christ. I think being crucified with Christ means several things. First, that is how God accomplished our justification. When we trust Jesus, we were punished by Christ’s crucifixion. We deserved to die because we cannot meet the holiness standard* (*see last week’s message). So we did die – through Jesus.

Laws only apply to live people. You can’t serve a prison term if you are dead. You can’t obey traffic laws if you are dead. There is no relationship between the law and dead people. So, because we died in Jesus, we are dead to the law. According to the law, we were punished and killed and buried with Christ. So living in faith means we are done with the law. We are done with thinking we can make ourselves holy. We are done with thinking we can earn something from God.

Therefore, part of living in faith, means recognizing that we can’t do anything. We always want God to do things for us. But dying to the law and living in faith means that we can’t get him to do anything for us. Our own resources are useless. There’s no plan, and no back-up plan. We have to abandon ourselves to Him.

I have met people who seem to turn “live by faith” back into a law. They suggest that the reason you don’t have enough money is because you aren’t claiming it by faith. Others might say that if you are sick, it is because you have not claimed your healing by faith. Their idea is this: you must “speak the word of faith” and believe it with all your might; also, you must avoid speaking or thinking words of doubt.

These people frequently says things like this: “I am not accepting this diagnosis of appendicitis. I am speaking against it in the name of Jesus. I claim his healing, and I am believing on Jesus for it.” Then, if they are healed, they chalk it up to their exertion of faith. If they are not healed, and have to have surgery, they think they somehow failed to have enough faith, or maybe they didn’t speak the right promise.

It sounds exhausting to me. In fact, it sounds a lot like living by law. If this is how to “live by faith” then it is still all up to you. If have the right kind of faith and speak the right words and avoid saying things that express doubt about an outcome, then God has to respond by making everything right for you. But if you fail to do these things, then the bad outcome is your own fault. Brothers and sisters, this is just another version of the law. The good news is, it isn’t up to us. But the scary thing is, it isn’t up to us. We can’t control God either by obeying the law or by “speaking in faith.” Living by faith means we allow him to be in control.

We have to depend on his choice of mercy and grace, even when we don’t understand why he makes certain choices. We have to trust that he truly does love us with an unimaginably great love, that he always has our best in mind. We have to trust those things to be true, even when we don’t understand what we are going through in life. Living by faith means we depend upon God; particularly we depend upon his mercy, forgiveness and underserved kindness to us in every situation and on into eternity. It means we depend on him when things are good, and when they are not good. It means we trust even when we don’t understand.

Now, I realize that some people may read this and say, “but you still aren’t telling me how to do it. What do I do?” I am very cautious about giving specifics, because we could easily turn them back to into laws that we think we have to obey to get right with God. If I give you seven steps to living in faith, will you really live by faith, or will you live by those seven steps?

It’s a little bit like gardening. How do you make flowers or vegetables grow? You don’t. You can prepare the soil. You can water the plants. You can plant seeds in places that get the right amounts of sunlight and soil drainage. But you can’t make them grow. Nobody grows anything. We tend to things that grow. But the growth itself is beyond us. All we can do is try to maximize conditions for growth to take place.

Living by faith is exactly like that. You can take advantage of certain things so that you are in a position to live by faith. But the life – according to Paul – is lived by Jesus, not by you. Jesus has to do it. All we can do is maximize conditions for him to live our lives. This is what he means when he writes: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

A friend of mine, and one of my mentors in ministry, wrote this on Facebook this week. It is a specific example of what I am talking about:

“I am experimenting asking Jesus if He wants me to give to those standing at stop signs on street corners. I do not meant to sound spiritual with this. I am seriously asking Jesus what He wants me to do. Sometimes I hear yes, sometimes I hear, you decide, sometimes I hear nothing. The question is not, “What would Jesus do WWJD??” but what does Jesus want me to do? I am learning how to live my life in the kingdom with Jesus as Jesus would live my life if He were who I am.” – Pastor Joe Johnson (emphasis added)

It is no longer Joe who lives, but Jesus who lives in Joe. What Pastor Joe wants, is to let Jesus have the freedom to express himself through Joe’s life. That is what it means to live by faith. It has nothing to do with pleasing God. It has nothing to do with controlling life, or using God to make life work out better. It is about depending on the Lord, so that he can do in you and through what he wants.

So please don’t turn what follows into rules that please God. You can’t please God. Jesus did that for you. You can’t live like Christ. Instead, Jesus Christ uses your life to express his own will and intentions in the world. All we can do is let him – or not.

With all that in mind, here are some things we can do that help us to allow him to live his life more fully through us.

Read the Bible. The bible reveals Jesus to us. If we want to live in dependence on him, it is helpful to know him. Reading the bible doesn’t make you a better person. But it does help you get to know Jesus, and the better you know him, the easier it is to trust him. It isn’t a law or a rule. But it’s hard to trust a stranger. So as you read the bible, Jesus becomes more real, more familiar and trust is easier. The Bible is one of the primary ways, and is certainly the most reliable and important way, that God speaks to you. If you never hear someone talk, it will be hard to get to know him. Reading the bible is like listening to the Lord. Sometimes he says things that we don’t understand, or that seem irrelevant. That is just because we are very young spiritual children. As we grow, we will gradually understand more and more. So regular contact with the bible is for us, what sunshine is for plants. It will cause us to grow. Here are two tips: ask God to reveal himself whenever you read the bible. If you aren’t a big reader, just read a chapter or less at one sitting. Or, get the bible on CD or MP3 and listen to it while you drive. It’s not a law. But it will really help you to live by faith.

Pray conversationally. I have had one long ongoing conversation with God going back to at least 1979. A lot of it is pretty stupid, and from one angle, embarrassing. I remember asking him for things that I am now glad he didn’t give me. I think once I asked him to help me win at marbles. I was playing a kid whose parents were Hindu. I didn’t ask for the kid or his family to become Christians. I just wanted to win his marbles. A lot of my prayers over the years have been like that: childish, selfish and ignorant. A lot of them probably still are. Most of them missed the point. But they had one redeeming quality that overrides all the problems: they were the expression of a life of faith. What I mean is, I was always relating to the Lord. He was always with me. He was there, so I talked to him. I didn’t know Him as well as I do now. I understood Him even less. But I treated him as if he were real and he was with me, and indeed, he was and is. I didn’t have to get it all right. The important thing was, I was constantly living in trust. I wasn’t always living in understanding. I wasn’t always living in external righteousness. But I was living in faith. That’s all he wants. If we live in faith, he can take care of the other stuff. So talk to him. He’s there. Talk to him just like you would any other friend. You can’t get this wrong.

Engage in real relationships with other Christians. Jesus designed the church – the community of those who follow him. He says he is committed to building it. The church is body of Christ, and the Bride of Christ. Jesus says he is with us in a special way when we gather together in his name. So, if you truly want to let Jesus live his life through you, we need to recognize that he really enjoys hanging out with people who are gathered to together to worship him and listen to him. No church is perfect, because we keep getting in the way of Jesus living his life through our lives. But as we truly commit to each other to love each other, in spite of our annoying habits and serious flaws; as we commit to supporting each other as we struggle with life in general and faith in particular, Jesus is with us in a special way. We can learn from each other. Even the flaws and failings of other Christians can be used by Jesus help us to grow. When we stumble the other Jesus-followers around us can help us back to our feet.

By the way, the best place I know of for real, authentic Christian relationships is in small groups of other Christians – fifteen or fewer people gathered together to hang out with Jesus and help each other along.

Music. The first three things to help us live in faith are for everyone. There is no one on earth who would not benefit from all three of those, in terms of getting closer to Jesus. Music isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t do anything for some people. But for a large majority of people, music can help us connect with the life of Jesus in a special way. It doesn’t have to be particularly Christian music either. I know that there is music out there that glorifies violence, or that glorifies and encourages immoral sexuality. Obviously, that kind of thing probably won’t help you to depend upon Jesus in faith. But there are many other songs and musical pieces that can encourage your faith, even if they aren’t explicitly Christian. If you find it helps you feel close to Jesus, make use of it. I suggest that you invite Jesus into your ears as you listen. Say to him, “hey, I love this song. What do you think of it?”

Beauty/Joy. I find my trust in Jesus encouraged by experiences of beauty and joy. I can put myself in a position to experience these things, and thus increase my trust in Jesus. I can’t always have an experience like I want to, but I have discovered certain things that often lift my heart and increase my faith. More often than not, when I am alone at a place of beautiful scenery, I feel closer to Jesus. When I am in the wilderness, I feel it. When I connect with nature through the feel of a fish on the end of my line, I experience a kind of joy and often feel more thankful to Jesus. For some people, they feel it when they exercise. Others get it by building something, or by being with certain people, or by helping folks who need it. Some get it by creating works of art, and others by admiring those works of art. If you start paying attention, you’ll soon learn the kinds of things that are helpful for you.

Christian faith is not a method for getting God to do what you want him to do. It is a life of dependence on Jesus, and learning to let him do what he wants to do through you.



The law is not a means to get right with God. It is a measurement that shows that on our own, we can never get right with God. The good news is, we don’t have to measure up.

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Galatians # 6. Chapter 2:15-18

15 We who are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners” 16 know that no one is * justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.6 And we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by faith in Christ7 and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will8 be justified. 17 But if we ourselves are also found to be “sinners” while seeking to be justified by Christ, is Christ then a promoter9 of sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild the system10 I tore down, I show myself to be a lawbreaker.

There is a word in this passage that we need to understand. The word is “justified.” We do occasionally use this word in every language. We might say, “My suspicions of that man were justified, because he turned out to be a criminal.” Or, “I was justified in taking that risk, because it worked out.” When we use the word in this way, what we mean is, “I have been proven right. My actions were good, reasonable and righteous.” When the Bible talks about being justified (or, “justification”) it usually means this: God approves of us. We are proven to be right and good in God’s eyes.

These four verses talk about how human beings are justified in God’s eyes (and, how they are not justified).

Paul says that no one gets God’s approval by works of the law. In this case, “law” means God’s objective, unchanging standard of holiness. God is holy – that is his nature. God’s holiness is, in effect, one of the basic laws of the universe, like the law of gravity, or the laws concerning the properties of light or matter. God’s holiness is so powerful that it destroys all un-holiness. Therefore, if you are unholy and you come into the presence of God, you will be destroyed. The “law” is simply a way for us to measure our holiness, to see if we can come into God’s presence or not. It tells us if we are holy or not. If we are not holy, God cannot approve of us. Instead, his nature destroys us.

Picture a high jump – two upright poles with a crosspiece between them. The idea is, you have to jump over the crosspiece without knocking it down. The world record high jump is 2.45 meters, or about 8 feet. Now imagine a high jump with the bar set at sixteen feet, or five meters. The bar up there shows you exactly how high you need to jump. There is nothing wrong with the measurement. The measurement is accurate and correct. It is good. It would be terrific to jump that high.

But the measurement simply shows you what you must do. It does not help you to do it. It cannot help you – that’s not what a measurement is for. So if the measurement shows you that you fall short, that’s not the fault of the measurement. It doesn’t mean the measurement is wrong or bad. It just shows you that you failed to reach the standard. The problem is not with the measurement, it is with you.

The law simply shows us what holiness looks like. It provides a way for us to measure and see if we have reached it or not. The standard is what it is, because holiness is what it is. It is a law of God’s nature. And what the law shows us, is that we cannot reach the standard. We cannot be holy enough to be justified, to be proven right in God’s eyes. The law shows us that the standard is impossible. That is all that the law can accomplish. It shows us that we are not holy, that we are sinners. And every time you try and reach that standard, the law will show you the same thing again. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, we were born without a chance. We were born with a congenital illness called sin, and the law shows us that we simply cannot overcome that. The law is not a means to get right with God. It is a measurement that shows that on our own, we can never get right with God.

Justification is the process by which we are made holy, so that we can experience the presence of God. It doesn’t come through the law. It comes through Jesus. He kept the law – on our behalf. He suffered and died – as punishment for our failure to meet the holiness standard. All that is left for us to do is to trust that this is indeed true.

The New Testament often uses the Greek word pistis and it is usually translated “faith.” I think perhaps a more helpful translation is “trust.” When we hear “faith” we often think it just means “belief.” But trust implies something more than just belief.

Use your imagination for a moment. Imagine you have been working hard all day, pounding rocks with a sledgehammer, and then loading them into a backpack, moving those rocks a mile down the road, and then going back to pound and move another load. After a long exhausting day, you see a chair. A stranger, standing behind the chair, invites you to sit down and rest. You believe that the chair is really there. That’s belief, of a sort. Now, suppose you look at the chair more closely. You think it would probably hold you if you sat down on it. It’s hard to tell, but it may even be comfortable. That’s another kind of belief. But trust or pistis is to actually sit down in the chair. Your confidence in the chair leads you to put your weight on it, to trust it to hold you. That is what the New Testament means when it talks about faith.

Some people believe that Jesus Christ was a real person; maybe they even believe he is still alive today. That’s belief, but it isn’t trust. Others believe that Jesus died for their sins. They believe that he could get them into heaven. That’s belief too, but it isn’t biblical trust. Trust is resting in Jesus, putting all your eggs into one basket, trusting that he has made you holy, and living daily with that trust.

Now, we’ve talked about this before, but it is helpful to revisit. If the law is only to show that we fail, and all we have to do is trust Jesus, then what is wrong with sort believing that we are forgiven through Jesus, and then going off and doing whatever we want? We can’t be holy anyway, so why should we worry about whether or not we sin?

Someone mentioned a few weeks ago that it’s interesting how we pray or sing “thank you for dying for me.” To be honest, we are often kind of flippant about it. We say it to Jesus with same kind of emotion we might say, “thanks for the coffee,” or “thanks for picking up lunch today.” I think the reason we do that is because we don’t truly understand or believe what Jesus has done.

Imagine you were in a concentration camp during a war. An evil prison guard selects you to be executed. Another prisoner steps forward and says, “No. I’ll go instead. Kill me instead.” The guard accepts the offer. If someone really did that, truly took your place for execution, it would be a life-changing, life defining event. Not a day would go by without you thinking about it. The rest of your life would be shaped by the memory of how you were spared. It would affect your goals, your thoughts, even perhaps how you treat other people. You would want your life to be worthy of the one who gave up his own life on your behalf.

Every once in a while you may meet someone, maybe a soldier, who was saved when someone else gave his life to keep them safe. When you meet such people, that story, about how they were saved, is often one of the first things they tell you about themselves. It irrevocably changes them. It leaves a mark.

When we truly believe and trust that Jesus has given his life to make us holy, it leaves a mark. It is a life-changing, life-defining thing. If we really trust that it is true, it is hard to be flippant about it.

If you really believed someone gave his life for you, you would realize that there is no way to ever repay that act. You might want to live a worthy life, to make your life count for something so that his was not wasted. But you would never get the idea that somehow you could repay that person or his family. You would simply have to accept that you have been given an incredible gift. In fact, it would be offensive to act as if you could somehow earn that gift, or as if you were inherently worthy enough for someone else to die for.

The same is true if you go through life trying to be good to somehow earn forgiveness. You can’t earn the right for Jesus to die for you. There is no way you could do enough. You cannot be worthy of what God has done for you. All that is left is for you to accept it, or not.

By the same principle, if we are living our lives to please ourselves, if we have no enduring sense of gratitude, no certainty that our lives have been defined by the event when Jesus offered himself up in our place, the problem is not that we are failing to live righteously. The problem is, if you live like that, you must not actually trust that Jesus has given his life for you. It isn’t real to you. You don’t really believe it.

Paul says, the only thing is to trust Jesus. We have God’s approval when we cling in faith to what he has already done on our behalf. You can’t earn it. It is offensive for you to try. It’s offensive also when we refuse to let it change us or define our lives.

The law shows us how hopeless we are. Jesus is our only hope. As the writer of Hebrews says,

That is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it. (Hebrews 4:14-16)



There is no gap for you to make up. There is no fruitless striving for you to do. There are no blessings that you could ever deserve or earn. The good news is, there is nothing we can do, and so Jesus has already done it all for us.

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Download Galatians Part 2


This is as good a time as any to talk about the word “gospel.” When Paul writes “gospel,” he is not really talking about the books written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John (John’s gospel was probably written after Paul died). The Greek meaning is basically, “message of good news.” As we see it used in the New Testament, it is not just any good news about anything, but rather a specific, established, consistent message: that is, the message about Jesus Christ, who he is and what he has done.

Jews in the time of Paul used to talk about “the Law.” “The Law” was a specific, established message given by God through Moses, who wrote and spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Technically, what Jews call “the Law” (the Torah) is made up of the first five books of the bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). We will talk more later about different ways that the word “law” is used, but for now, it’s helpful to know this.

All of the other books of the Old Testament – those that come after the first five – are called by Jews “the Prophets.” First and Second Samuel, which we have just finished studying, are part of “the prophets.” They too represent a specific, established message given by God through people who wrote and spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

By the time of Jesus, no one would think of changing the Law or the Prophets. The message was already established. Paul sees “The Gospel” as the third and final piece of God’s special revelation to human beings. It is the fulfillment of “the Law,” and “the Prophets.” It is the specific, established message given by God through people who wrote and spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the case of the gospel, the message completes the law and prophets, and is very good news for human beings.

The point is, in the eyes of the New Testament writers, you cannot change the Gospel. It is as established as the Law and the Prophets. It goes with the Law and the Prophets. If a Jew would be shocked if someone changed the message of Moses, so a Christian should be equally shocked at someone trying to change the message of Jesus Christ.

Paul gives the Galatians the gospel message in a nutshell in his greeting:

3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord2 Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.

That’s it: grace and peace are available to us only in Jesus, because he gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins, attaining forgiveness for us, and a restored relationship with God, rescuing us from the devil. We have some additional clues to the kinds of things that Paul preached to the Galatian Christians. In Pisidian Antioch, he said this:

Therefore, let it be known to you, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you, and everyone who believes in Him is justified from everything that you could not be justified from through the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38-39, HCSB)

In Iconium, this is what happened:

So they stayed there for some time and spoke boldly in reliance on the Lord, who testified to the message of His grace by granting that signs and wonders be performed through them. (Acts 14:2-3, HCSB)

The gospel is a message of grace. It is good news. Jesus has done for us what we cannot do. Jesus lived a perfect life on our behalf; and Jesus accepted the punishment for sin, on our behalf. Whatever was required from us has been provided by Jesus.

In Lystra the Lord did a miracle through Paul, and healed a lame man. The crowds wanted to make sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, thinking they were pagan gods. Paul said this:

“Men! Why are you doing these things? We are men also, with the same nature as you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own way, although He did not leave Himself without a witness, since He did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and satisfying your hearts with food and happiness.” (Acts 14:15-17, HCSB)

His message: turn from these worthless things to the living God. What worthless things? Certainly, their pagan gods. But also this: the idea of offering sacrifices, as if you could actually please God. Paul is saying, “turn from trying to do what has already been done for you. Turn away from the worthless activity of trying to earn something from God. Jesus has already earned everything for you.”

Paul goes on to explain that God gives good things – even to pagans – to show them that he was both real and full of love and grace. You don’t get good things by being good. Instead, you get good things when God chooses to be gracious to you. You cannot earn grace. If you could, it would not be grace. It is God’s free gift, given by His choice, not in response to something you do or don’t do.

So, when Paul writes to these Christians, he is deeply distressed, because he is heard that they are already turning away from this message of grace. Apparently, certain Jewish leaders in the churches were saying something like this: “Yes, Jesus is the messiah. We need to believe that. But of course, we still need to keep the Jewish law. You can’t expect to please God if you don’t follow Jewish rules like circumcision and kosher eating. You can’t have God’s favor unless you are one of God’s chosen people – that is a Jew.”

We don’t have any writings from the Galatians themselves, so we don’t know exactly what they were saying. But it seems that the basic message was what I just shared. Now, as I mentioned before, today, you don’t hear many Christians saying that. But we do have many churches and individuals who seem to preach “a different gospel.”

What are those “different gospels” that we might hear today?

Here’s one: Jesus has done what you cannot do. But he won’t do what you can do. Suppose God is a thousand yards away from you. You, flawed human being that you are, can only move one yard in his direction. So Jesus comes 999 yards to meet you. But if you don’t move that one yard in his direction, you’re screwed, because Jesus won’t do that extra three feet when you are capable of doing that yourself. A lot of churches teach this, without putting it so obviously. I have many friends who were raised Roman Catholic, and many of them experienced something like this. The problem is this: we are always left wondering, “Did I move my full three feet? What if I’m a few inches short?” Practically speaking, you are left still trying to work your way to God. There is still a separation between you and God – and you are responsible to close that gap yourself. You always feel a little guilty, a little unsettled, because maybe you haven’t done quite enough. It doesn’t really matter if the gap is one mile or one yard – if it is up to you to close it, this isn’t good news.

Brothers and sisters, this is not the message of the gospel. Jesus came all the way to get you. You can’t move an inch to meet him, and you don’t have to. There is no part of the gap between you and God that you are expected to close. Jesus has done it ALL. Do not listen to a false gospel. The good news is truly and completely good.

Here’s another false one. Jesus has done it all. Now you are set free to try and live a good life. You’ll fail, of course, but God forgives you because of Jesus, and so you have an infinite number of opportunities to keep trying to get it right.

I read something on Facebook just the other day that captures this idea. Someone mentioned Ephesians 4:17-32 and said:

While it is impossible for us to do we are to work at it daily. When we fail we shouldn’t beat ourselves up nor should we make excuses, just pick ourselves up again and keep trying.

Does that sound like good news to you? It sounds sadistic to me – to have to keep trying to do what both God and I know I will never be able to do. To try and fail infinitely: that sounds discouraging, exhausting and frankly, pointless. It almost sounds like punishment, not forgiveness.

Thankfully, that is not the real gospel either. The real gospel tells me I can’t do a single thing to measure up. Jesus has done all the measuring up for me. I can’t add to what he’s done. I am free from pointless striving. In Jesus I have never sinned. In Jesus I have already done every good, and never failed to do what I should.

Now, in our small-group last week, the question came up: If that’s so, then why are there so many passages in the New Testament that tell to do certain things (like use our money and talents for God) and to not do other things (like getting drunk or committing adultery)?

We will get into that more deeply as we go through the book of Galatians. The short answer is this: if we truly believe the good news and trust Jesus, he lives in us, and our lives will naturally begin to look more and more like Jesus as time goes on. It won’t be us striving – it will be the life of Jesus increasing in power in our lives as we surrender to him and trust him more. If that doesn’t happen, if we never show any improvement, the appropriate response is not to try harder to do the right thing, but to examine whether we really trust Jesus. Those commands in the New Testament are there to help us see if we are really trusting Jesus or not. For instance, in Ephesians 4:17-32, which led to the quote above, people always miss the first part

But that is not how you learned about the Messiah, assuming you heard about Him and were taught by Him, because the truth is in Jesus. You took off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires; you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; you put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth. (Eph 4:20-24, HCSB)

You don’t keep trying to do what you can’t. Instead, through faith, you “put on Jesus.” As you trust him, your spirit and your mind are renewed, and as a result, your behavior begins to change. You don’t change your behavior – the Holy Spirit changes it as you trust Jesus and daily.

There’s a final “other gospel” that I want to point out, one that is becoming more and more common in America. That false gospel is something like this: Jesus has forgiven our sins. Because of that, now if we do good works, God will give us blessings in this life. This particular false gospel has two errors. The first is that it puts the focus of our faith on getting blessings in this life. I know far too many people who have been sucked into this. They are focused on getting good finances, good health and good relationships through God. God is just a means to their goal, and their goal is a good life here and now. Paul says this about such people:

If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. (1 Corinthians 15:19)

These folks usually do believe in heaven and are happy enough to think they’ll go there someday. But for now, what they’re really after is good stuff here and now. Faith isn’t about being reunited with God. Instead, it treats God like Santa Claus. If the boys and girls are only good, they’ll get lots of presents. By the way, I think these folks do more to turn other people off Christianity than all the atheist clubs in the world.

The second error is that those blessings are based upon what we do. We earn them. They are not given by God’s grace. This false gospel says if you just believe right, behave right, and speak “in faith,” that means that God has to do what you want him to do. God is a vending machine: you put in good works, and get blessings in return. If you want to gain a lot of followers, that is what you should preach. A lot people do. But Paul says he is not preaching to please people. That isn’t the gospel. The gospel is about our eternal relationship with God. Sometimes he blesses us here and now – certainly more than we deserve. Sometimes he doesn’t.

The real gospel is the message that we are completely and totally dependent on God’s grace, and he has given us that grace fully through Jesus Christ. There is no gap for you to make up. There is no fruitless striving for you to do. There are no blessings that you could ever deserve or earn. As we trust him, he changes us (we don’t change ourselves). And the hope of eternity outshines and dominates the struggles and disappointments we encounter in this life.

I encourage you to receive this message more and more fully each day. And let no one lead you astray to any “false gospel.”